Citizen Green: A fight the governor might win without firing a shot

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Jordan Greenby Jordan Green

Gov. Pat McCrory’s first year in office left the distinct impression that the real driver of state government is the General Assembly, led by fellow Republicans Phil Berger in the Senate and Thom Tillis in the House. And Art Pope, but maybe that’s besides the point.

McCrory signed into law countless items of significant legislation passed by Republican lawmakers last year. But he vetoed a bill that required drug testing for welfare recipients and legislation expanding an exemption of seasonal workers from the immigration status program E-verify.

No matter. The Republican supermajority bulldozed through the governor by overriding his vetoes, effectively enacting law without his consent.

In a state where Democrats hold the advantage in voter registration, the Republican governor needs to establish that he’s a leader and not a follower. He needs to show he’s his own man.

He needs to take a stand, and if necessary pick a fight with lawmakers from his own party — ones he can win — to show who’s boss.

When McCrory took a stand in front of Pickett Cotton Mill in High Point on April 23 to declare his support for historic preservation tax credits, he may have found his issue.

Ever since the Republicans consolidated control of state government in late 2012, lawmakers have been talking about simplifying the tax code and closing loopholes while lowering corporate and income tax rates. Rep. Julia Howard, who represents part of Forsyth County and serves as the senior chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee that is responsible for the state’s revenue, reinforced that notion earlier this month when she told Triad City Beat: “I do not believe there’s any intent to reinstate.”

The sunset of the historic preservation tax credit would be a blow to North Carolina cities, where developers have used it to offset the significant expense of rehabilitating 19th and early 20th Century industrial buildings and house new tech enterprises while revitalizing their downtowns and enhancing the local tax base. BioTech Place, formerly part of the massive RJ Reynolds tobacco warehouse and now the anchor of the northern segment of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem, is a prime example.

Democratic mayors such as Allen Joines in Winston-Salem and Bill Saffo in Wilmington, recognizing the importance of the tax credit to their respective cities’ continuing economic recoveries, have rallied to save it.

Joined by lawmakers from both parties, Gov. McCrory announced support for legislation to replace the sunsetting historic-preservation tax credit in front of the Pickett Cotton Mill in High Point, soon to be occupied by the Belgian furniture maker BuzziSpace.

“Investing in North Carolina historic structures preserves our history and creates jobs,” the governor said. “These programs make cultural and economic sense. Old abandoned mills and factories are becoming housing and business spaces that are sparking economic revitalization in towns and cities across our state. Historic revitalization means jobs, economic development and a rebirth of many downtowns. Companies are relocating to these spaces from across this great nation and from around the world.”

The urban core of the state’s largest cities are represented by politically impotent Democrats, but Republicans like Sen. Trudy Wade and Rep. Jon Hardister in Guilford County also have a chunk of them. And practically every small city across the industrial heartland of the Piedmont — places like Lexington, Salisbury and Gastonia — holds a stock of sturdy, beautiful old mills waiting for new life. These towns happen to be represented by Republican lawmakers. They have to hear the pleas of preservationists, developers and downtown retailers.

So maybe the Republicans intent on letting the historic-preservation tax credit expire will blink on this one, and McCrory will score a political win without even facing a fight.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Thom Tillis told Triad City Beat on Monday that “we don’t know if we plan to reinstate it and we believe that we will be looking into it in the short session.”

Rep. Hardister, a Greensboro Republican who joined McCrory at Pickett Cotton Mill, suggested he’s not inclined to let ideology trump practical considerations.

“I’m not a big fan of tax credits, but I’m not a purist,” said Hardister, who has heard from Preservation Greensboro on the matter. “I’m a conservative, and I would like to simplify the tax code even more. We do have certain tax credits in place that are benefiting the economy. One day we may not need these tax credits. This tax credit is something I think we need to strongly consider. At this point, I support it.”